Key steps in the National Referral Mechanism process
Last updated 23/09/2021
This section provides you with a summary of the key steps in the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) process.
Current process from 31 July 2015 (in cases outside the NRM pilot)
To establish whether a person is a victim of any form of modern slavery (including trafficking) identified in England and Wales or a victim of trafficking in Scotland and Northern Ireland, 2 decisions are made:
1. A reasonable grounds decision to establish whether someone is a potential victim.
2. A conclusive grounds decision on whether they are in fact a victim.
These decisions are currently made by Competent Authorities within the UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC) and the Home Office.
The location of the victim when they are identified determines whether they are classed as a case identified in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
The key steps in the NRM process are as follows:
1. Identify a potential victim of human trafficking in any part of the UK (or slavery, servitude, or forced or compulsory labour where identified in England or Wales) and refer to the NRM. See Referrals to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). See Referrals to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).
- First Responders, who are specified statutory authorities and Non-Governmental Organisations, have a responsibility to identify potential victims and refer cases to the UKHTC Competent Authority of the NRM
2. Reasonable Grounds decision made by the Competent Authority to determine whether it either:
- suspects but cannot prove this person is a potential victim of human trafficking on any UK referral
- suspects but cannot prove this person is a victim of slavery, servitude, or and forced or compulsory labour where identified in England or Wales)
- concludes there are not Reasonable Grounds to believe this individual is a victim of any form of modern slavery
‘Suspect but cannot prove’ is a relatively low threshold, lower than the criminal standard of proof, or Conclusive Grounds test. See Making a Reasonable Grounds decision.
If there is a positive reasonable grounds decision the person is given a 45 day recovery and reflection period and support relating to the immediate and ongoing needs of the potential victim while the Competent Authority makes a substantive conclusive grounds decision.
This reasonable grounds decision should be made within 5 working days of referral to the NRM where possible.
The reasonable grounds decision acts a filter for referring potential victims to the NRM based on the information available at that time. This will be followed by a substantive conclusive grounds decision on whether someone is formally recognised as a victim, with a higher threshold.
3. Conclusive Grounds decision made by the Competent Authority
The conclusive grounds decision should generally be made after 45 calendar days. See Making a Conclusive Grounds decision.
The test to use for the conclusive grounds decision is whether, ‘on the balance of probabilities’, there are sufficient grounds to decide that the individual being considered is a victim of human trafficking in any UK referral (or slavery, servitude, or forced or compulsory labour where identified in England or Wales). This threshold is higher than the reasonable grounds test, but lower than the criminal standard of proof.
The Competent Authority must first decide whether there are sufficient grounds to decide that the individual is a victim of trafficking.
For cases identified in England and Wales, if there are not sufficient grounds, then the Competent Authority must go on to consider if there are sufficient grounds to decide that the individual is a victim of slavery, servitude, or forced or compulsory labour.
Following a positive conclusive grounds decision, in relevant cases the Home Office Competent Authority will make a further decision on whether an individual qualifies for a grant of discretionary leave, in line with the Convention and the UK Government’s commitment to extend this provision to victim of slavery, servitude and forced and compulsory labour across the UK. See When to grant discretionary leave after a positive conclusive grounds decision.
For details of the process relating to discretionary leave where UKHTC is the competent authority see Considering EEA nationals for discretionary leave.